Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why We Use The Word Bisexual

Bisexual is a Community Identity Label (similar to “lesbian,” “gay,” “straight,” or “queer”).
Many bisexuals use Personal Identity Labels that serve a vital function in describing differences while giving each individual a space to be unique.
Personal Identity Labels can include (but would never be limited to): fluid, multisexual, non-monosexual, pansexual, polysexual, pomosexual, and omnisexual.
The internal conversation between bi, pan, fluid, queer community members about labels should not be used as a rationale for not serving the needs of the same community.
“Bisexual or Pansexual?” can be considered the bisexual equivalent to internal community conversations many gay and lesbian people have regarding personal approaches to identification (e.g. “masculine,” “butch,” “femme,” or “queer”). Some older bisexuals only prefer bisexual, some younger folks only prefer bi, and some only prefer using a personal identity label like non-monosexual or pansexual. All identifications are equally valid so don’t “identity police” but DO spend time acknowledging the diversity that exists within the “B in LGBT”.

Bisexual, bi definition

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From the 1990 Bisexual Manifesto

Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have “two” sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders. Do not mistake our fluidity for confusion, irresponsibility, or an inability to commit. Do not equate promiscuity, infidelity, or unsafe sexual behavior with bisexuality. Those are human traits that cross all sexual orientations. Nothing should be assumed about anyone’s sexuality, including your own.
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New York Area Bisexual Network Marching, 1991

Some bisexual identity reporting best practice tips

  • If a source identifies as pansexual or fluid, use their identity word to describe them—but do so without making or repeating assumptions about those who identify as bisexual. For instance, a source may say that she or he identifies as pansexual because of a capacity to be attracted to people of any/all genders. Do not assume that the same is not true for someone who uses the term bisexual.
  • Do recognize that people who fall under the “community identity label” bisexual may use “personal identity labels” such as fluid, multisexual, pansexual, polysexual, pomosexual and omnisexual. The use of these labels may vary by region, ethnicity and socioeconomic class. Understand that the bisexual community (and the LGBT community as a whole) has ongoing conversations about labels. Those conversations do not invalidate the label bisexual–or the labels lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, etc.
  • Do not assume that someone must be equally attracted to men and women to be bisexual. Within the bisexual community, you will find that people have a broad array of attractions. Some bisexuals may be more attracted to people of a particular sex/gender identity, while others may experience attraction as unrelated to sex/gender identity.
  • Recognize that bisexuals are part of the LGBT community, regardless of their current relationship status. Don’t refer to bisexual people as straight, and do not call them “allies” of the LGBT movement. For example, media coverage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie frequently characterized both as supporters or allies of the LGBT movement (or, in some cases, their support has been questioned). In fact, Jolie is a bisexual woman who has been out for years. The fact that she married a different-sex partner does not change that she is part of the LGBT community, not an ally/supporter.
  • Do not hyphenate the words bisexual or bisexuality.
  • Spell out the word bisexual on first reference. The abbreviation bi is often acceptable on subsequent references; however, some members of the bisexual community prefer that the full word always be used. Ask your sources and respect their preferences. Other abbreviations of bisexual may include bi* and bi+ to indicate the diversity of identities within the bisexual community (i.e. pansexual, non-monosexual, fluid, queer). The label bi* maybe considered analogous to the abbreviation trans*, which is similarly used to indicate diversity within the transgender community. These abbreviations are not widespread, and if you use them you will most likely want to include a note of explanation for readers.

For more best practices, see GLAAD Media Reference Guide – In Focus: Covering the Bisexual Community at glaad.org/reference/bisexual.

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